A Travellerspoint blog

Architectural details


I enjoy picking out and photographing the small (and sometimes not so small) details of buildings. Indeed, I can find myself omitting to photograph the building as a whole as it’s often the details that capture my imagination. Wherever I travel I find building details that intrigue me.

Let’s explore!


Art Nouveau in Riga

Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil as it is also known, was an art and architecture movement of the late 19th to early 20th centuries, at its height 1890–1910. This was an art form that crossed genres, from architecture to interior design to jewellery to textiles, and more. It proposed that art should be a way of life, and that everyday items could be beautiful too. It was inspired by nature – flowers, animals, natural forms. I love the way that its shapes flow organically, and the combination of fluidity of design with the rigidity of stone makes buildings in this style particularly appealing to me.

And Riga is the place to see them! It is famous for its large number of well-preserved (or more often, well-restored) Art Nouveau buildings. These are dotted across the city, but there is a particular concentration of them in one area on and around Elizabetes and Alberta streets.

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Art Nouveau in Riga - 4a Strēlnieku iela

This is one of the most dramatic and dazzling buildings in the district, 4a Strēlnieku iela. It dates from 1905 and is one of many by perhaps the best-known architect of Riga’s Art Nouveau period, Mikhail Eisenstein (father of the famous film director Sergei Eisenstein). Eisenstein’s main concept was that even the smallest thing could be beautiful. I loved the Wedgewood-blue and white colour scheme of this building, and the over-the-top ornamentation with snakes and even robot-like creatures.

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Art Nouveau in Riga - Elizabetes Street

These are two of my favourite images from Riga. On the left, a detail of one of the most famous Art Nouveau buildings in the city, 10b Elizabetes Street, (again by Mikhail Eisenstein). It dates from 1903 and is extremely colourful, adorned with a rich mix of masks, peacocks, sculptural elements and geometrical figures.

And on the right, a detail of no 33 in the same street, yet again the work of Mikhail Eisenstein. In this, Eisenstein made use of elements of almost every historical architectural style that he could think of, from Roman design through the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and on to Classicism. There are decorative masks, stylised plants and geometric forms galore, and all set off, when I was there, by some beautiful purple flowers planted on the balconies.

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Art Nouveau in Riga - 13 Alberta iela

This is 13 Alberta iela, another of Eisenstein’s designs and one influenced by his distress at the news of the defeat of Russian fleet in the Russian-Japanese war in 1904. The façade is dominated by two large masks of screaming women (this is one of them) and above these are structures in the shape of upended cones which support the bay windows on the attic floor.

I'll finish this brief look at some of the Art Nouveau glories of Riga with a selection of a few more details:

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Art Nouveau in Riga


On Tuchlauben, Vienna

For architecture from the same era Vienna is also a delight (and for other reasons too, including food and drink!) The city is rich in architectural details from many eras in fact; the city offers Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau and modern in abundance, although it is probably the Baroque for which it is best known.

In Vienna

Not being an expert, I am not always able to be sure of the period from which a building dates, especially when so many of them have been reconstructed or redeveloped over the years, but in Vienna it is the flourishes of Baroque and the more recent flamboyance of much of Art Nouveau that continually catches my eye.


The building above and right is on Tuchlauben, an elegant street that leads north west from Stephansplatz. These are caryatids, defined by Wikipedia as ‘a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head’. I love to see them and to photograph them as they are usually so elegant and beautiful. I especially like the way that here the caryatid is in a contrasting stone to the rest of the building.

The male equivalent of a caryatid is a telamon. This one (left) is on the Verwaltungsgerichtshofs, on the Judenplatz, which gets its name because it was at the centre of Jewish life in Vienna in medieval times. The Jews lived in a ghetto of just 70 houses, their backs turned to surrounding streets to form a wall, and in the centre was this large square.

Today the square has a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, the work of the English artist Rachel Whiteread. But back to the Verwaltungsgerichtshofs. This houses the Austrian Administrative Court of Justice and was formerly the Bohemian Court Chancellery. It is very ornate with female figures above the entrances representing the cardinal virtues of moderation, wisdom, justice and bravery, and a telamon either side of each. High above an angel blows a trumpet, flanked by more figures.

An address in stone, Vienna

Here is something a bit different. These little animals in the past served as addresses for a population who might not all be literate. I found this one somewhere in the streets between Stubentor U-Bahn station and the Scwedenplatz – you will have to keep your eyes open for this or similar creatures when you visit Vienna.

Let’s finish our time in this beautiful city with a few photos of one of my favourite buildings to photograph there, the Hofburg Palace, or more specifically its Michaelertrakt – the 19th century St Michael Wing, named after the church it faces. The graceful curve of this building is broken by a grand archway, either side of which a series of sculptural groups tell the story of the labours of Hercules (the work of Italian sculptor Lorenzo Mattielli). The structure is surmounted by a striking central green dome 50 metres high, two smaller ones ornament the ends, there are eagles, trumpeting angels, statuesque figures and coats of arms – and the whole is fabulously Viennese!





Hofburg Palace, Vienna


In the old town, Ancona

The warm colours of Italian houses feature in many photos, including my own, but the details of letter-boxes, signs, carvings of saints etc., are to my eye equally picture-worthy. Here’s a selection:

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In the old town, Ancona

Palazzo Fava da San Domenico, Bologna

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Bologna house details

Building detail, Serra San Quirico
- a lovely small village in Marche

As a Roman Catholic country, Italy has many small shrines to the Virgin Mary on the walls of houses:

House in Monopoli

In Sorrento

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In Manarola in the Cinque Terre

Elsewhere in Europe

Here is just a random selection of little details captured in a variety of places:

Above a door in the Hors-Château area of Liège, Belgium

And above another Belgian door, this time in Ghent

This is becoming a theme!

Above a door in Krakow

And in Faro, Portugal

And while we’re in Portugal, we have to include some street signs, made from beautiful azulejos, the traditional glazed ceramic tiles:


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Still in Faro




In Cascais


Let's leave Europe and explore further afield (further for me, that is). If I had to pick out my favourite countries for this sort of detail-spotting, Uzbekistan would be high on the list (along with India, but that is covered extensively in my other blogs).

Detail of the Emir Zade Mausoleum at the Shah-i-Zinda

The well-restored (some would say possibly too well-restored) ancient buildings of Samarkand are covered in the intricate tile mosaics typical of this style of Islamic architecture, with blue the dominant colour. As one of our travelling companions, Els, exclaimed at the Shah-i-Zinda, it was indeed at times ‘too much for my eyes!’

Dome of the Shadi Mulk Aka Mausoleum, Shah-i-Zinda

The Shah-i-Zinda is the holiest site in Samarkand. According to legend, the prophet Elijah led Kussam-ibn-Abbas, first cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, to the Afrosiab hill north east of Samarkand's current location. The legend tells how Kussam came to bring Islam to this Zoroastrian area, and was attacked and beheaded for his trouble. It was believed that despite this he continued to live, and indeed is alive still in an underground palace on this site, which now bears his name; ‘Shah-i-Zinda’ means ‘the Living King’.

The Gur Emir – detail of dome

The Gur Emir is the mausoleum of Tamerlaine. Wherever you go in Uzbekistan you’ll find it impossible to avoid hearing that name. It seems every nation needs its heroes, and when the Soviets left the country and their heroic statues of Lenin and Marx were pulled down, it was Tamerlaine who took their places on plinths around the country and who came to symbolise for Uzbeks their new-found independence and freedom. Observers from outside might question his credentials as a hero – this is after all a man who, in attempting to conquer the world, left an estimated 17 million people dead in his wake. But in Samarkand in particular he left the legacy of great peace, prosperity and splendour. Naturally then his mausoleum is of a scale to impress.

The Gur Emir – interior detail

An unnamed poet is said to have exclaimed on seeing it, ‘Should the sky disappear, the dome will replace it’, and you can sort of see what he meant.

Door detail,
Bibi Khanum Mosque

Bibi Khanum was Tamerlaine’s great work, his attempt to build a mosque larger and more splendid than the Muslim world had ever seen. But his ambitions here overstretched the capabilities of his craftsmen, and the mosque was doomed almost from the start, though not from want of effort. He employed the very best slaves and workers, imported 95 elephants from India to haul the wagons and, when he judged the portal too low, had it pulled down and ordered it to be rebuilt. He himself superintended the work, coming to the site each day in his litter, and arranging for meat to be thrown down to the men digging the foundations rather than have them stop working for a moment. The result was a mosque of never-before seen proportions. But this splendour wasn’t to last. Almost from the first day it was in use, the mosque began to crumble, putting worshippers in peril. No one seems to know for certain why this was – maybe the building was simply too ambitious for the technologies of the day. Whatever the reason, this is one ancient structure that has so far defied the attempts of modern builders to restore it properly – and I found it all the more compelling for that very reason!

I will no doubt write more about Uzbekistan in some future blog here, but for now here are just a few more photos from our time there:

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In Khiva - the Khuna Ark, and the Juma Mosque

In the Applied Arts Museum, Tashkent

Antigua Guatemala

I could clearly go on a long while with this blog entry, but will finish with just one more place where I found lots of photogenic details, among the earthquake-devastated churches of Antigua Guatemala. This was the country’s third capital. It was founded in 1543 when an eruption of the Vulcan Agua (Water Volcano) destroyed the second capital in the valley of Almononga. In 1566 the city received the name of ‘Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala’ (Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of the Caballeros of Guatemala), or Santiago de Guatemala for short. Despite the ravages of several earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the city was the capital and economic centre of the whole Kingdom of Guatemala (today’s southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.). But in 1773 came the most destructive of all the earthquakes, the Santa Marta, and much of the city’s political and religious infrastructure was destroyed. A proposal was drawn up to move the capital for a third time, and despite some opposition, in 1775, a royal letter was written to order the foundation of a new capital. Left largely in ruins this city might perhaps have crumbled away completely, but enough fabric and people remained to keep it alive. Today’s Santiago de Guatemala, Antigua, is a National Monument and it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. At its heart is an almost perfect grid of streets and avenues, each of them a gem, lined with picturesque houses (many single-storey because of the constant threat from the forces of nature) and dotted with the skeletons of those ruined colonial churches.

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Iglesia de Santa Clara, Antigua Guatemala

The convent of Santa Clara was founded in 1699 for a small group of six nuns who moved here from Mexico. With support from the city’s wealthier citizens they constructed a church and convent buildings between 1703 and 1705, but these were destroyed in the earthquake of 1717. The remains standing today are those of a new church and convent started in 1723 and finished in 1734 – and destroyed in 1773.


Ruins, Catedral de Santiago, Antigua Guatemala

Antigua’s cathedral might well stand as a metaphor for the city itself: built, destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed again, and finally rebuilt for a third time but on much less grand a scale. Now the ruins of its former grandeur lie in the shadows of today’s more modest structure.

I hope this blog has given you a sense of why I love to look for the details of buildings and, as I said at the start, often focus (literally!) on these at the expense of the whole.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:18 Tagged art buildings architecture ruins colour austria italy poland guatemala romania belgium details photography portugal switzerland latvia uzbekistan Comments (13)

The colour red


I thought it might be fun to theme one of these entries around not a subject matter but a colour. Red is a wonderful colour to use in photography – it pops off the page or screen, adding not only vibrancy but also a sense of perspective.

Emir Hussein Mausoleum, Shah-i-Zinda, Samarkand

Look at the way the tourist in the red dress and hat leaps out at you in this photo taken at the Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. This photo is of course predominately blue as are all the mausoleums there, rich with complex mosaics – this one is the Emir Hussein Mausoleum, but all are similarly rich in their decoration.

The remaining photos here though will be dominated by the colour red. Let us see where that theme takes us …


This is the country that I associate most strongly with red. I have already included lots of photos in my Japan blog so I’ll only add a handful here.

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Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, and gate at Senso-Ji, Asakusa

Sanjūsangen-dō Temple - Kyoto

Plant life

Red flowers, red leaves, red berries – all great subjects for photos that ‘sing’. These berries were photographed in December at Druridge Bay on England’s north east coast:

Winter berries at Druridge Pools

And here is the vivid red of a ginger flower at Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica:

Ginger lily, Dunn's River Falls, Ocho Rios

And of course we can’t forget poppies, one of my favourite flowers. Italy is a great place to find them, as in this display outside the ancient town walls of Bevagna in Umbria:

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By the town walls, Bevagna

Or these by a roadside in Marche:

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Marche poppies in May

This poppy however was growing in the grounds of Ehrenbreitstein Fortress in Koblenz, Germany:

Ehrenbreitstein garden poppy

And this one in a cottage garden in Adlestrop in the English Cotswolds:

Poppy in an Adlestrop garden, Gloucestershire

[Have you worked out by now that I especially love poppies?!]

But here’s a dahlia for a change, photographed in Pashley Manor Gardens in Sussex, England:

Dahlia, Pashley Manor

Back in Italy, look at how this red geranium glows against the grey stone steps of Corinaldo in Marche:

La Piaggia - Corinaldo

And a cyclamen on a windowsill in the old town of Monopoli:

In the Centro_Storico, Monopoli

Bougainvillea is most often seen with bright purple or deep pink flowers, but there are red varieties too. I came across this one in Faro, Portugal:

Bougainvillea in Faro

And this at Ngala Lodge in Gambia:

In the grounds of Ngala Lodge, Fajara

Where I also photographed another of my favourite flowers, a beautiful red hibiscus:

In the grounds of Ngala Lodge, Fajara

When it comes to edible plant-life, red is often the colour of heat, as in these chillies drying in Albuquerque, New Mexico:

Chillies for sale, Albuquerque

And in Sorrento, Italy:

Outside the Fattoria Terranova, Sorrento

Or chilli powder in a Jaipur market:

In the spice market, Jaipur

Around and about

I found this vibrant red bench in Rapperswil on Lake Zurich:

Bench near the castle, Rapperswil

And here is a brightly painted Parisian door:

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Door details, Paris

A red Harley in Deming, New Mexico:

Harley Davidson, New Mexico

And also in New Mexico, these classic red cars in the Route 66 museum in Santa Rosa:




In the Route 66 Auto Museum, Santa Rosa, NM

And one from Havana, Cuba:

On the streets of Havana

A bright red chair for sale in an antique shop in Rye, on England’s south coast:

Shop in Rye, Sussex

And a cheerful red fishing boat in nearby Hastings:

On Hastings beach

Closer to home, an old fire station just around the corner from my house in Ealing, West London:

Old Fire Station in South Ealing

Red to wear

What about some colourful red clothing? Such as a scarf wound round the head of a villager in Gambia:

In Albreda, Gambia

And a beautiful dress worn by a visitor to the Qutb Minar in Delhi:

Tourist at the Qutb Minar in Delhi

The red turbans of some elderly residents of Narlai in Rajasthan:

Local men in Narlai

And the dress of a Morris dancer at Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire (northern England):

400 Roses dancer - costume detail

And finally

The centenary of the outbreak of World War One was marked at the Tower of London with an amazing art installation, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. A tide of 888,246 ceramic poppies filled the Tower's famous moat between 17 July and 11 November 2014. Each poppy represented a British military life lost during the war. The individual poppies were later sold, raising millions of pounds which were shared equally amongst six service charities. I was fortunate to see them in place at the Tower – a powerful statement about the loss of lives, especially young lives, during that war.


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Posted by ToonSarah 05:37 Tagged london boat flowers england japan temple india colour cars italy garden red jamaica usa poppy delhi photography costume gambia narlai Comments (13)



Everyone loves a waterfall, and I am no exception. The sheer power of all that water is mesmerising, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to capture the movement in my photos. Slow shutter speeds are essential to get that blurred effect, or maybe a fast one to try to freeze the droplets of spray. Here are some of my favourite waterfalls from around the world.

Niagara Falls

Canadian Falls from the Skylon Tower

I have to start here. My first major trip abroad, or at least the first outside Europe, was a school camping trip to Canada in 1973, when I was seventeen. We spent two of the three weeks at a campsite just outside Niagara Falls and made several visits into town to see the falls, which left a significant impression on me. We did the classic Maid of the Mist boat ride, crossed to the US side for a different perspective and looked down on them from the Skylon Tower. We even had a short helicopter flight over the falls! Years later in 1995 I revisited Niagara with Chris, on a detour from our New England road trip, and was again blown away. These photos are from that second visit and are scans of slides, so please forgive the quality.

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The American Falls

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The Canadian Falls - Maid of the Mist, and night illuminations


This was another of our early US road trips, again captured on slides. Towards the end of our time in the state we drove the Columbia River Gorge where there are numerous waterfalls to be seen. My photos are of Multnomah (on the left) and Latourell Falls. The former drops in two steps, split into upper falls of 542 feet (165 metres) and lower falls of 69 feet (21 metres). Latourell drops in a single fall straight down from an overhanging basalt cliff rather than tumbling over rock, and is pretty dramatic as a result.

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Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

Washington State

Lower Myrtle Falls

I have already shared photos from our 2017 road trip in another blog here but couldn’t resist including a few of my favourite waterfall ones here. I loved the setting of Myrtle Falls in Mount Rainier National Park, with the snowy mountain as a backdrop:

Upper Myrtle Falls

Elsewhere in Mount Rainier NP the falls at Sunbeam Creek and Falls Creek, while small, were very pretty:

Sunbeam Creek Falls

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Falls Creek

Rainbow Falls at Stehekin on Lake Chelan were another highlight of that trip:

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Rainbow Falls


As with Washington, I have also already blogged about Chile, where I was particularly impressed by the Salto Grande in the Torres del Paine National Park – more than worth the effort it took to battle the ferocious winds to walk there!

Salto Grande

Also in the Torres del Paine were the Cascada del Rio Paine, in a very picturesque setting:

Cascada del Rio Paine

Further north I had been impressed by the Petrohué Falls, albeit in less perfect weather conditions:

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Petrohué Falls


The best waterfalls I have seen in Europe are those of Iceland, which we visited in February 2012. Days were short and chilly, but the falls were magnificent, especially Skógafoss and Seljandsfoss on the south coast. I’m looking forward to seeing them again next May when I return to Iceland for the Virtual Tourist meeting there.

At Skógafoss we not only viewed the falls from below but also climbed the wooden steps to the top where we were rewarded with a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside and of the water tipping over at the top of the falls.





Seljalandsfoss can be seen from some distance away as you drive towards it but it is only when you park and walk closer that you get the full sense of its size. The water pours over a cliff and drops about 60 metres into a surprisingly calm pool, before flowing away across the meadows. From the parking area a short easy path leads to the pool at the foot of the falls. From here you can climb a few steps to a path that leads behind the torrent, but on our winter visit both these and the path close to the water were thick with ice and we decided not to attempt it – something for next May, for sure!


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We also went to Gullfoss on the Golden Circle – more extensive and dramatic than the south coast falls, and surrounded by ice and snow on our February visit, but with rather leaden skies for photography.

Gullfoss means “Golden Waterfall” but when we were there, as you can see, it was more silver than gold. Although the falls themselves weren’t frozen, the land around them was and the whole scene was awesome in a wintry fashion – just beautiful!

Having seen the power of Gullfoss it is hard to imagine that it was ever threatened, but so it was. In the middle part of the last century such wonders were perhaps less appreciated than they are today, and for a while there was talk, and even some plans, of harnessing the power of the river here to generate electricity. The popular story is that these plans were overthrown due to the efforts of one woman, Sigrídur Tómasdóttir, who even threatened to throw herself over the falls. Whether it was her threat, or a simple lack of money, is not clear, but the falls were saved and today are protected as they should be, while a memorial to Sigrídur stands in the upper car park area. Iceland would certainly be the poorer, despite all its other magnificent scenery, without this dramatic sight.


Iguaçu Falls

If I were to award a prize to the most impressive falls I have visited, Iguaçu would win for sure. With all the majesty of Niagara but in a much more natural setting, they took my breath away. I’m in good company too – apparently when Eleanor Roosevelt visited Iguaçu, she was heard to say, “Poor Niagara”.

Two thirds of the falls are on the Argentine side of the river and one third in Brazil, where we stayed. The falls are part of a practically virgin jungle ecosystem protected by national parks on either side of the cascades, where development has been well-controlled and restricted. This beautiful tropical setting is one of the reasons why for me (and Eleanor) Iguaçu had even more wow factor than Niagara.

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Argentine Falls

Another reason for their grandeur is that the falls here extend for a long way, and there are so many of them. However you look at them, the stats are mind-boggling! In all, the system consists of 275 falls along a 2.7 kilometre length (1.67 miles) of the Iguaçu River. Some of the individual falls are up to 82 metres in height, though the majority are about 64 metres. The Devil's Throat, or Garganta do Diabo in Portuguese, is the most impressive of all: a U-shaped cliff 150 metres wide by 700 metres long. On average an average of 553 cubic feet per second thunders over the escarpment. Again though, these photos are scans of slides so the quality could be better.

'Garganta do Diabo' - the Devil's Throat

The name of the falls comes from the Guarani Indian word meaning "great water." I love this little legend which the local Caingangue Indian tribe told to explain their origins:

Is this Naipi?

The Caingangues, who lived on the banks of the Iguaçu River, believed that the world was ruled by M'Boi, a god who took the form of a serpent. Naipi was the daughter of the tribe’s chief, Igobi; she was so beautiful that the river ceased to flow when she looked upon its waters so as not to disturb her reflection.

Because of Naipi's exquisite beauty, she was to dedicate her life to the worship of M'Boi. However, there was a handsome young warrior in the tribe, Taroba, who fell in love with Naipi the moment he first saw her. On the day of the consecration, while the chief and the priest were drinking and the warriors were lost in their dancing, Taroba stole away with Naipi in a canoe and followed a swift current down river.

When M'Boi learned about the escape of Naipi and Taroba, he became insanely angry. He drove his serpent body underground, and twisted and writhed, and by thrashing his body to and fro he opened a gigantic fissure into which the waters poured from the Iguaçu river. Taken by the waters of the great falls, the canoe was borne down into the depths of the river, never to be found.

The legend tells that Naipi turned into one of the prominent central rocks below the waterfalls, forever to be touched by the waters, and Taroba turned into a large palm tree, inclined over the throat of the river, to gaze forever at his beloved.

A rather touching story with which to finish our mini tour of some of my favourite waterfalls.

Posted by ToonSarah 10:40 Tagged landscapes waterfalls chile brazil niagara iceland washington_state Comments (13)



When we use the term ‘monochrome’ we might be assumed to be talking about black and white photography, but I also like to take colour monochrome photos, by which I mean colour images that consist mainly of shades of a single colour. Let me show you what I mean.

Sunrise and sunset are obvious times of day for such photos as the warmth of the sun tints everything around.

Sunrise at Souimanga Lodge, Senegal

A Senegal sunset

The blue light of dusk has a similar effect – and in winter dusk comes early in northern Europe.

In January 2013 we travelled to Tromsø in search of the Northern Lights and were fortunate enough to see them several times. But our time there, and cruising the fjords to the north on a Hurtigruten ship, also gave us the opportunity to see something of this beautiful country, although the days were very short.

Winter cruise in the Norwegian Fjords

Tromsø Harbour

The previous year we had visited Iceland on a similar but less fruitful quest, but that trip was even more rewarding photographically speaking, as I hope this, and several others of the photos I've selected for this blog, will show.

Hafnarfjördur Harbour, Iceland

But bad weather, often cursed by photographers (including me!), can provide great opportunities too. I spent much of our boat trip on Chile's Lago Todos los Santos wishing the clouds would clear so that we could see the surrounding mountains, but in the end I was happy with the moody photos I took there.

Island on Lago Todos los Santos, Chile

We had similarly damp and dreary weather on the first day of our visit to Japan's Kamikochi National Park. Kamikochi did have a certain beauty in the rain, although it had meant that the mountains we had come to see were hidden from view. Luckily we were to get a glimpse of them on our final morning in the park, but meanwhile there were still photo opportunities to be found.

Kamikochi in the rain

Unsurprisingly we had some bad weather in Iceland too, although also a couple of glorious days - this isn't one of those!

Gullfoss panorama

Upper falls, Gullfoss

While not precisely bad weather, steam from geysers creates the same effect as fog or mist, muting colours and softening the scene.

One of the geysers of Iceland, the Great Geyser (Icelandic name, Stori Geysir) , gave its name to the phenomenon as a whole, with geysers all over the world named after it (geyser is Icelandic for 'gusher'). Sadly the Great Geyser is these days more or less inactive (although occasionally it can be coaxed back into life when artificially stimulated with carbolic soap powder). But luckily another nearby geyser, Strokkur, is much more obliging, and erupts at regular 5-10 minute intervals. It may not reach the heights that its neighbour once did, but at 30 or more metres it is still a pretty impressive sight. And I promise you, these are not black and white photos!

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Strokkur, Iceland

Of course, geysers are not confined to Iceland, and in Chile we visited the famous El Tatio Geysers, best seen at dawn when the steam is most active and visible, and the light is of course subdued.

El Tatio geyser field, Atacama Desert, just before sunrise

El Tatio geyser field, Atacama Desert

Similar effects can be found in stark landscapes, where there is little vegetation and colours are often muted. The White Sands of New Mexico are a perfect example. Imagine a desert with dunes that stretch to the horizon, dotted with a few hardy plants and baking under a hot sun. Now imagine that the sand in this desert is not yellow, but as white as snow, and you will have some idea of what it is like here.




White Sands National Monument

Closer to home, one of my favourite photographic locations is Druridge Bay in Northumberland, preferably on a crisp winter's day.

Winter scene in the dunes, Druridge Bay

And talking of the Northumberland coast brings us to seascapes. Again, Northumberland provides some of the best.

Refuge on the Pilgrims' Way, Holy Island

Gulls and rocks off Boulmer

But perhaps the most dramatic coastal scenery I have been able to photograph to date is that of South Iceland, where big seas and black sands make for exciting views.

Reynisdrangar seen from Dyrhólaey

Reflections, Dyrhólaey

Another option for monochrome colour images is to get in close to your subject, so only one colour fits into the frame. Let's finish with some examples of this.

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Indian architecture - Taj Mahal and haveli in Jaisalmer

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Moroccan architecture, Telouet

Plant pot at the Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji: the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto

Antiques in Frenchtown - New Jersey

Guggenheim Museum, NYC

Posted by ToonSarah 08:20 Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beaches rain architecture desert new_york japan india colour views chile weather morocco photography seas national_park geysers iceland Comments (10)

Street art


I love to see and to photograph street art, although I feel it poses a couple of challenges. Firstly, when judging graffiti, where is the line where vandalism crosses over into art? And secondly, when judging a photo of street art, are we really assessing the skill of the photographer, or of the original artist?

On the first point, I think we can look at two factors. While the appeal of art is very subjective, generally it’s possible to recognise elements of creativity, imagination and originality – and conversely, to recognise the lack of these in a piece of pure vandalism. But location also plays a part – was the artist invited to create a work of art on this wall? Is it in an area put aside for this purpose? If not, has the piece diminished or added to the attractiveness of a street scene?

I believe all the photos I will share in this blog entry tick at least one of the ‘is it art?’ qualifiers. As to whether they are good photos or simple accurate records of ‘good’ art, I will leave you to judge – but sometimes a straightforward record shot is worth sharing too!



I want to start here, on Chile’s Pacific coast, as it is one of the best cities I have ever visited for street art. But as I have already blogged about a day trip here elsewhere on this site (Valley of Paradise), do feel free to skip these first photos!

Valparaiso is famous for its neighbourhoods of colourful houses that spill down the hillsides towards the port. They are a magnet for artists, for photographers, for writers and are especially known for the street art that adorns many of the buildings, which was one of the main things that attracted us here. No doubt this started unofficially, and just here and there, but today it is a major feature of the city, helped by a tolerant city council who overlook the fact that graffiti and street art are illegal in Chile and have ensured that there are no regulations that explicitly outlaw it .

Instead it is widely accepted and even welcomed by local businesses such as cafés and shops, who recognise that it will attract visitors. Many owners nowadays will commission street artists to create a design for their wall, while many artists who spot a likely wall space will pitch their ideas to the owner and collaborate to produce a design with which both are happy.

Most of my photos were taken on the streets of Cerro Concepción, one of the designated historic areas known as a zona típica, but you find similar in many other parts of the city.






Portugal seems to be more tolerant than most cities of graffiti, and many examples found in Lisbon might be judged to be on the wrong side of the vandalism/art divide, but I’ve always found plenty to admire here too. Much of the graffiti here is created with the use of stencils – the Barrio Alto and Alfama districts are the best places to search. In recent years there has been increased interest in creating street art on a much larger scale, covering whole buildings, as in the last example here (taken on our most recent visit in 2013).

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Graffiti in the Barrio Alto, 2009

Lisbon street art, 2013


In Faro too, which I visited with Virtual Tourist friends in 2016, I found some colourful examples of street art:

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In Faro


This is another city I discovered through Virtual Tourist when a meeting was organised here in 2014. I liked it so much I went back the next year with Chris. Architecturally it is perhaps most famous for its Art Nouveau district, but the more working class and somewhat scruffy area known as Latgale or Maskavas forštate (Moscow District) is also appealing photographically speaking, and has the best examples of street art – most, though not all, of these photos were taken there on those two trips.





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In Riga


Perhaps the best-regulated display of street art is the East Side Gallery in Berlin. There are several places in that city where stretches of the once infamous Wall remain. Some are left much as they were, one at least showing the signs of destruction caused by the assault by local people when finally they brought the Wall down. But on the banks of the Spree near the Ostbahnhof is a stretch that has been restored and decorated with a series of murals by artists from all over the world. And whereas in the period of the city’s division the decorative graffiti was confined to the western side of the wall, now it is the eastern side that is both colourful and, at times, political.

Birds in Heaven
No-man's Land
The Birth of Hip Hop

In the Scheunenviertal

The 1.3 km stretch was turned into this informal open-air gallery soon after the fall of the Wall, in 1990, and completely restored, with new art-works, in 2009 to mark the 20 year anniversary of that event. There are 106 works in total, and it claims to be the largest open-air art gallery in the world. Much of the art work on display will stimulate and remind you of the events of 1989, as well as raising some challenging questions perhaps about on-going conflict in our world – although a few pieces seem to be just for fun. My photos show a selection of the works I liked best when we visited in 2011, soon after this restoration.

But street art in Berlin isn’t confined to the East Side Gallery – here are a couple of pieces from trendy neighbourhoods Scheunenviertal and Prenzlauer Berg.

Oderberger Strasse, Prenzlauer Berg

Some other examples

Lagos, Portugal

As some of the photos above show, I like to include people in my street art shots, to give perspective and bring the scene to life. Here are a few more random examples of this:

Lower East Side, NYC

In Liège

Newcastle / Gateshead

But I don’t have to travel far to find good street art! We make several visits each year to Chris’s home town of Newcastle and I always carry a camera when out and about in this very photogenic city. In recent years the area around Ouseburn just east of the city centre has been developed as a focal point for artists, creative businesses and similar, and is a great place to find interesting street art.




Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle


But perhaps the best place I know for street art is my home city of London – or maybe I just know where best to look for it here? Certainly I have a surfeit of examples that I could share, so here is just a (perhaps rather large!) selection:

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All the above taken near Brick Lane

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All taken in Shoreditch and Hoxton - ripe hunting ground for lovers of street art

Posted by ToonSarah 05:41 Tagged art streets city photography street_art street_photography Comments (9)

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